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Woman gets first check in $635,000 settlement

A 61st Street woman last week received the first of three installments of a $635,000 damage settlement from the Niagara Falls Water Board.

Grace E. Snyder, 60, a retired waitress, was injured when a compressor trailer became unhitched from a Water Board van and collided with her car on Buffalo Avenue on Jan. 12, 2009.

Robert Viola of the Niagara Falls law firm Viola Cummings & Lindsay, who represented Snyder, said the woman suffered herniated discs and whiplash.

"She ended up requiring back surgery," Viola said. "She's not going to be working. I don't think she could tolerate it."

Snyder was returning home from a lunch shift at Pete's Market House when the accident occurred, Viola said.

Paul Drof, executive director of the Water Board, said he wasn't in office at the time, but he said his predecessors looked into the case thoroughly and decided none of the four employees in the van deserved to be disciplined.

"A root cause investigation was done, and it was determined that proper procedures were followed," Drof said Friday.

But according to a police report filed at the time by Officer Franco Tallarico, the accident with the runaway trailer was blamed on improper hitching of the trailer to the van.

The van was being driven west on Buffalo Avenue by Water Board worker William E. Lutey Jr., now 54. The other members of his work crew were listed as Fernando A. DeRubeis, 30; Daniel J. Rhoney, 49; and Donald J. Martineau, 47.

Tallarico said they had just left a work site on Point Avenue and were heading back to the water plant at the end of their shift.

The accident was reported at 2:23 p.m., when Lutey looked in the rear-view mirror shortly after driving over a "defect" in the pavement in the 7000 block of Buffalo Avenue and saw the compressor smashed into Snyder's car.

Snyder had been eastbound and couldn't avoid the trailer coming at her. Tallarico said the top half of the hitch was not put down and the hitch pin was not secured.

John J. Ottaviano, attorney for the Water Board, said there were several days of meetings in Rochester with a private mediator chosen to try to arrange a settlement short of going to trial later this month before State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch in Lockport.

"It started out on the issue of liability. That was resolved in a day," Ottaviano said. "The issue of causation, negligence, was pretty strong."

After that, it was all about how much to pay Snyder.

The board approved a three-year installment plan for the damages at its March 24 meeting: $385,000 to Snyder right away, and payments of $125,000 in each of the next two years.

"She was very happy with it, and it's very fair," Viola said.

Ottaviano said the board sought an installment plan because of its insurance situation. It has a self-insurance liability fund of only $500,000. It has insurance with Everest National Insurance Co. for losses greater than that.


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